Crossroads is one of Stockholm Stadsmission’s numerous projects. However this one is slightly different compared to what the old organisation has done over the past. In 2013, Stadsmission celebrates 160 years of existence. Not bad at all. This proves at least two things: a) the organisation is efficient in what it does and b) its actions are needed. In a nutshell, Stadsmission – literally, the city mission – is a non-profit NGO whose mission is to turn Stockholm into a more human city by fighting homelessness, isolation and addictions. To do so, the organisation works in three main activity areas: social work, business activities and education.
Let’s refocus ourselves on Crossroads. Crossroads belongs to the first activity area. The centre opened in March 2011 as a logical response to the increasing number of EU-migrants seeking employment abroad partly due to their country’s recent EU-membership and because of the economic crisis in Europe. Rising unemployment in Southern countries has led to an increased immigration towards Northern countries. Indeed, the latter seem to be seen as economical paradises with endless job opportunities. However, to the exception of Norway and its hardly reducible 2.6%, the unemployment rate of Sweden’s active population rose to 8.2% in May 2013 (in Denmark, it was then 6.8%) according to Statistcs Sweden (SCB). Alright, alright, those figures don’t look as alarming as Spain’s 26.9%, Greece’s 26.8%, or even Portugal’s 17.6%. But they are “small” countries. To reinforce this contrast of perceptions, an article published by the United Nations Regional Information Centre for Western Europe (UNRIC) reveals that Sweden has the “highest ratio of youth unemployment vs. unemployment in general in the OECD” with 24.2% of those under 24 who is unemployed.
Refocusing (again) on Crossroads and keeping in mind that Sweden is considered a promised land by many immigrants – that was probably even my own viewpoint before I moved here in 2010 – Stockholm, as the capital and most dynamic city of the country, has received the bigger share of those new immigrants. I believe in the cultural benefits of immigration, however, the immigrants in question here are purely economic ones who escaped poverty in Eastern Europe and degrading conditions in Southern Europe in search for well-paid jobs in the North. The move is totally understandable… but unfortunately, many of those migrants end up in homelessness. This is the situation that Crossroads attempts to improve by providing breakfast, lunch, hygiene products, clothes and a warm place where participants can shower, rest, do their laundry, use computers or make some calls. These services are open to anyone in need. On the other hand, Crossroads – and particularly its 4 wage-earning EU-counsellors – provides EU migrants with help and information, through individual meetings, in order for them to understand their rights and obligations as immigrants in Sweden and improve their chances on the labour market. EU migrants are those born in another country of the European Union and third country nationals (TCN) who were born outside the EU but acquired a permanent residence permit in an EU country. As a matter of fact, one needs to be a citizen in one EU country in order to have the right to travel, work and live in another.
Like many social projects of this type, Crossroads depends substantially on the participation of volunteers. I had the pleasure to volunteer work actively there over the course of 3 months. Crossroads has over 100 registered volunteers among which around 30 are considered active. There are 4 types of volunteers: those who come to the premises and help with whatever is needed from making calls to public authorities, answering questions, translating letters and mostly, translating/creating CVs and cover letters in Swedish (I was one of them); those who are too busy to come but translate documents from home; those who give courses in job search, English, Swedish, cooking, etc.; and the professionals, such as lawyers, doctors or podiatrists, who come during their free time to make the participants’ life a bit nicer.
Everyone experiences moving to another country differently, but there are several recurrent points that can be underlined here. Many of the participants I spoke with mentioned the difficulty to find a job related to a certain incoherence of the Swedish regulation system. Indeed, in order to do most things in Sweden – open a bank account, enjoy the affordable healthcare system, and take (free) Swedish lessons for instance – one needs a personal identity number (or personnummer – one can even receive a temporary co-ordination number) registered at the tax office. However, in order to be granted this personal number, the tax office requires that the applicant provides a contract that will prove that s/he will receive a salary and be able to sustain him/herself. So far, so good. But the issue is that most employers refuse to hand out a contract to people without a personal number. That’s what one can call a “Catch-22” situation. Unfortunately, some unscrupulous employers abuse this system, along with the immigrants’ limited knowledge of the Swedish system, and have them working while they wait for their personal number for which they applied with a document which is nowhere near the acceptable contract. In case the application is denied, the employers simply refuse to pay out the salaries.
Let’s not fail to mention that the Swedish language is a huge barrier for many, as it is a requirement for most job positions. And also, imagine yourself being homeless – that’s already hard to imagine – in a city where winter temperatures easily reach -20°C and snow can cover the ground during up to 5 months!
If you are interested in this topic, you might like this article from 2011: http://www.thelocal.se/33676/20110509/
– http://www.stadsmissionen.se/; last accessed 10-07-2013
– http://stockholmcrossroads.se/en/; last accessed 10-07-2013
– http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-SF-11-034/EN/KS-SF-11-034-EN.PDF; last accessed 10-07-2013
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– http://sdw.ecb.europa.eu/quickview.do?SERIES_KEY=132.STS.M.DK.S.UNEH.RTT000.4.000; last accessed 14-07-2013
– http://www.unric.org/en/youth-unemployment/27411-sweden-highest-ratio-of-youth-unemployment; last accessed 15-07-2013